Monday, September 20, 2010

BumbleBee Harvest Time

Ornamental grasses are all the rage in the fall garden these days and gardeners also crave any shrub whose foliage turns red, orange, or yellow to light up our fall landscapes.  As we design our landscapes solely to ease us softly into bitter winter, however, we should not forget that while it's harvest time all over Kansas and the Midwest for the grain needed to sustain mankind though the winter, it's harvest time for all the other creatures of Earth as well.

While fall gardeners still value flowering plants for adding color to the garden, there is no better reason to keep fall-blooming plants in your garden than to provide that final fall burst of energy for the many creatures who need nectar for winter stores, whether it's the hummingbirds migrating south for the winter or it is the bumblebee at the right, sipping at the 'Blue Mist' caryopteris.  In fact, take a closer look at that blue-collar workaholic bumblebee; covered in pollen from the many visits, it doesn't have time for a shower or a deodorant spritz, it's just buzz buzz buzz till the cold saps its energy.  Bumblebees store only a few days energy in the nest and each individual must reach a certain weight before entering their hibernation state if they are to survive the winter.  Astonishing efficient and cooperative, they leave a little scent deposit on every flower they visit, a gentle way of communicating to the next bumblebee to come along not to bother wasting time at that particular blossom.  In the fall, they benefit most from lavenders, asters, sunflowers, hyssop, sedums, goldenrods and salvias, which accounts for the activity around my lavenders and for all the Blue Sage (Salvia azurea), goldenrod, and sunflowers blooming all over the Kansas prairie right now.  I've not had a lot of luck with heather here in the Flint Hills, but a dense patch would help shelter the bumblebees in inclement weather so it might be worth a try in a sheltered area. Several sources noted that honeysuckles are also valuable in fall as a rich supply of nectar for bumblebees.  And I noticed just this weekend that my 'Florida Red' honeysuckle was blooming again.  Smart vine, that honeysuckle!

Of course, other flowers and plants are useful for these and other visitors.  The  Buddleia sp. keep up their display to attract butterflies like the late season Thoas Swallowtail pictured at the right.  The milkweeds sacrifice themselves for the greater glory of the Monarch.  And of course, nothing likes the honeysuckle better than the migrating hummingbirds.

Every plant has its favorite pollinator, every insect a favored plant, all synchronized to mix and mingle just at the right time to keep them all going, year after year, eon after eon.  Seems like there's a Grand Plan to all this, doesn't it? 

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